The legend was christened Henry Grantland Rice after his birth in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on November 1, 1880. The name Henry was dropped, but the legend has lasted for 100 years. This pioneer in sports journalism developed an art of language and poetry into the profession he dearly loved.
He learned his high moral character from the central figure in his family, the grandfather for who he was named. By the time he grew into a teenager, Rice was living in Nashville on Vaughn Pike. Later, the family moved into a larger house on Broad Street (now 10th Ave.), where he played games with the neighborhood kids.
Throughout these years, Rice would learn discipline from the two military schools he attended, Nashville Military Institute and Tennessee Military Institute. These institutes encouraged athletic competition for the sportsmanship and discipline they taught. Later he enrolled at the prep school, Wallace University School that was located on South High Street.
Rice would later describe the founder and headmaster, Clarence B. Wallace, as the most influential teacher he experienced. He would credit Wallace for his writing success due to the introduction and importance of Latin and Greek. Rice's gift of his poetry was enhanced by these studies.
Rice found his way to Vanderbilt University in the fall of 1897. Football was a sport he cherished but the three years on the Commodore gridiron only gave him pain, literally. Used mostly as a substitute; this135-pound man accumulated a broken arm, four ribs torn from his spinal column, a broken collar bone and a broken shoulder blade.
He was a good athlete but there were many more athletes, which were far more superior. Rice was a versatile athlete and captain of his class basketball team, which at that time was an intramural sport. When Rice tried to participate in track and field, his experiences were similar to football; he broke a big toe when he dropped a 16-pound hammer during a training session.
Amazingly, his determination endured these hardships and he played four years of baseball where he became team captain. He claimed to have never missed a baseball practice and never missed a game after his freshman season. His most memorable game came against the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. He contributed to a Vanderbilt 4-3 victory with 15 assists, no errors, a home run and a double.
He helped lead Vandy to the Southern Conference championship just before his graduation in the spring of 1901. Rice graduated with a B.A. degree in Greek and Latin. He graduated in the first Phi Beta Kappa class out of Vanderbilt.
Barnstorming for several weeks in the summer with a semi-pro baseball team gave him the confidence to consider playing professional baseball. However, his shoulder injury from football ruined that aspiration.
Since Rice was successful in the arts while at Vanderbilt he saw an opportunity to pursue journalism. The Nashville Daily News was in its infancy, only a few weeks old when he applied for a job as a sports editor. To his amazement he got the job for 5 dollars a week. The legend was about to begin.
Rice was blessed with the gift of writing rhythmic heads and verses for his leads. His managing editor complimented him on these stories, which in the beginning were printed without a by-line. One of the first poems to appear was in the Aug. 13, 1901, edition. After covering a baseball game between the Southern Association Nashville Vols and Selma, Ala., at Nashville's Athletic Field (later Sulphur Dell) he wrote:
Baker was an Easy Mark
Pounded Hard over Park
Selma's Infield is a Peach
But Nashville now is out of Reach
All of the Boys Go out to Dine
And Some of them Get Full of Wine
After their long, successful trip, the locals opened up against Selma yesterday afternoon at Athletic Park, and when the shades of night had settled on the land the difference that separated the two teams had been increased by some dozen points.
Throughout the whole morning a dark, lead-colored sky overhung the city, and a steady rain dripped and drizzled, only stopping in time to play the game, but leaving the field soft and slow.
The reader would have to find the box score to learn the outcome of the game. The Athletic Park was once the site of a sulphur spring and Rice is credited with the renaming of the ballpark to Sulphur Dell. This area was referred to as the sulphur bottoms and in the renaming he confessed it was easier to locate rhyming words for Dell rather than Bottom.
The year 1901 was the inaugural baseball season of the Southern Association. The Nashville Vols' franchise was in first place throughout the season and eventually won the first championship. The interest in Nashville was intense as baseball fever grew. The Nashville Daily News was an afternoon newspaper, which meant scores were always a day late. Rice would cover the Vols on the train for key out-of-town games.
To beat the other newspapers in Nashville, Rice devised a plan to send detailed information back to Nashville for important games. He used a telegraph wire hook-up from the ballpark with recruited telegraphers to relay game information in a bulletin-type style.
For a small fee, crowds in the Masonic Theater or from two bowling alleys on North Cherry Street would receive detailed information just moments after a play was made. Some of these games were scripted as if the game was getting play-play action, which built suspense.
The Daily News wasn't doing particularly well during this period and Rice left Nashville for a publication in Washington, D.C.; and later his second sports writing job with the Atlanta Journal in 1902. He was responsible for the entire sports page, covering all sports. Atlanta gave him the exposure and the experience, which sharpened his talents. Rice’s first major story involved an interview with a youngster named Tyrus Cobb.
From Atlanta, Rice worked a year for the Cleveland News, which brought him to a major league baseball city. Rice wasn't comfortable in Cleveland and he accepted a job as sports editor at a new newspaper in Nashville, the Nashville Tennessean. The Tennessean was published at that time on the corner of Eighth Ave. and Church St. in downtown.
Rice had a four-year stint at this second Nashville newspaper where he would be responsible for the daily two sports pages with four pages on Sundays. His collection of short stories was printed under the title "Tennessee 'Un," and the sports pages were comprised of wire reports, special dispatches with local and national stories. Vanderbilt and Tennessee sports were covered, as well as cycling and horse racing from Nashville's Cumberland Park. Of course, his now becoming famous poems, stanzas and verses were in his stories.
In 1908, the Vanderbilt baseball coach had to leave the team and Rice offered to coach for this one season. His team was .500 in what was termed a re-building year.
Rice moved on to the big time of sports writing in New York City to cover the likes of Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey on a national level. The dean of sportswriters died in his office on July 13, 1954 after completing his column about Willie Mays and the 1954 All-Star game.